The interdisciplinary discussion of Natural Hazards and Natural Risks is an important link between Physical and Human Geography. Both subdisciplines have been developed to more and more specialised disciplines in the past. However, the field of Natural Hazard and Natural Risks offers opportunities to supplement both's subdisciplines' perspectives and strengths - beyond any traditional landscape or 'Laenderkunde' approaches in Geography. This research agenda is a complex field for Natural Sciences, Human and Social Sciences, Engineering Sciences, Economic Sciences, Politics, Law, Medicine, as well as for political and operative organisations.
Based on the self-understanding of Geography as an integrated spatial science, it is preconditioned for investigating such a complex scientific area. The Working Group Natural Hazards / Natural Risks is aiming to use the natural, social and spatial focussed science perspectives. Consequently, the different understanding of the terms "natural hazard" and "natural risk" is part of the natural and human science dialogue.
For the natural scientists, a snow avalanche in a non-occupied area is a "natural event" and changes to a "natural hazard" when it occurs in a settled area. A Physical Geographer is in particular interested in the different geologic, pedologic, climatologic, hydrologic and geomorphic aspects and consequences on settled regions following a snow avalanche. The actual or potential endangered people living and acting within a given region is the addressee for suggestions and recommendations of scientists. These comments are in particular based on calculations of potentially endangering conditions or on alerts from early warning systems.
The principle interest of a Social Geographer is not the direct investigation of the particular "natural event" as physical phenomenon. It rather is the human perception of a potential or already occurred "natural event", the way individuals and societies cope with so-called "natural disasters" or the possibility of negative effects related to "natural events". The Human Geographer is defining the "natural event" in similar ways as the Physical Geographer. However, the terms "natural hazard", "natural risk" and "natural danger" are used differently in Social Sciences. In case, the potentially dangerous event is unknown, in German language the term "natural danger" (Naturgefahr) is used by some authors. In case, people realise that they themselves or their assets are at danger due to "natural events", the same authors use the term "natural hazard" or "natural risk", depending on their understanding of risk. For some authors, the perceived possibility of a "natural event" turns into a "natural risk", in case the people are aware of the natural processes and of possibilities of hazard mitigation or hazard reduction and were decisions of actions were taken, or not. The person living and acting within a given region is now confronted with the risk to take a decision, which potentially increases or decreases the effects of a natural event. This principle is explained on the previously mentioned snow avalanche. Possibly, the population living in a valley which is potentially endangered by snow avalanches is not willing to follow the recommendations given by local governments of scientists. Instead, they will build new skiing slopes after a snow avalanche has occurred and allow further construction sites within the catchment. Consequently, there are fundamentally different ways in deadling with "natural risks".
How can such diverse research based on Physical and Human Geography methods and techniques be linked?
Based on both perspectives of the natural hazard and natural risk research, the Working Group aims to address within Physical Geography the investigations of the natural resources in a natural and cultural landscape. In addition, changes of these resources through human impacts are analysed, therefore the used nature is the resource to be managed. In contrast, the Human Geography is focussed on the impact of the "Natural Hazard" considering the perception, the evaluation and the response of the people. The people, who perceive the risk in any kind, try to influence and affect this risk by taking decisions and actions. Within this Working Group, one research aim is the investigation of 'how' humans deal with risks and 'why' they are acting in this particular way.
Consequently, two major goals are the "management of resources" and the "risk management". One future perspective is to evaluate the analysis based on resource and risk management within the interdisciplinary borders of this Working Group and to summarize respective results.
In order to reach the goal of summarising respective results, the Working Group is not limited to specific natural processes. Similarily, there is no limitation to a region. Otherwise, these limitations would channel future results to respective site-specific examples and would not allow to follow the own self-conception.